Raising Kids That Aren’t Picky Eaters

Some kids are picky eaters, and some have other issues that should be investigated further. These tips are for dealing with “typical” picky eaters. I use the term loosely, but I just want to make sure it's clear that these will most likely not work for those with sensory issues.  These tips are great for that typical, “I don't like veggies” stage almost every parent has to battle.

Avoid Raising a Picky Eater

Raising Kids That Aren't Picky Eaters

If you suspect that the problem your child has is more than just a distaste for a specific flavor, there are other steps you need to take to deal with their sensory struggles.  There are often true food aversions that go beyond being simply picky eaters.  Textures can be a huge problem for children with sensory related disorders.  Keeping a journal of the symptoms and struggles is a great beginning that can then be shown to your physician/pediatrician to get help on that end. Otherwise, these tips are great for helping you to raise kids that are not picky eaters.

Offer healthy choices from the get-go. If you're fortunate enough to be reading this while your child is still toddler age, you can use these tips to prevent your child from being picky from the beginning.  This will keep you from having to reverse picky habits when they're older. I highly recommend looking into baby led weaning if you have an infant.  We used it with the twins and there is literally not a single food they do not like.  My older two were a bit harder.

  • As soon as you start to introduce solids, start with vegetables.  So many parents begin with fruits.  Of course, babies and toddlers are going to be drawn to the sweetened fruit.  Avoid those as long as possible and instead get your kids excited about vegetables.
  • Feed your baby real food from the beginning, instead of the stuff in the jars.  Make your own baby food instead of buying the kind in the stores.  My friend Alea has a great tutorial on how to make your own baby food to help you begin.  I have also heard amazing things about the Magic Bullet Baby Bullet Baby Care System to create your own baby foods and store them. We just used a regular magic bullet and a baby food mill when the twins were little.
  • While your baby turns into a toddler, continue to offer healthy choices instead of high-sugar, boxed alternatives that are advertised all over the television.

Lead by example. It's okay to not eat everything, but you do need to try everything.  Showing them an adventurous spirit about food is a must.  Tasting new foods and attempting new cooking methods is a great way to show them that just because you don't enjoy one way of preparation doesn't mean you won't enjoy them all.  I much prefer being honest that you don't like steamed Brussel sprouts but love roasted.  Explore different preparation until you find the right way to please your taste buds and theirs.

It's all in how you present it. Pinterest has thousands of ideas on how to make food look and taste better for everyone – especially picky eaters. Even though I am a homeschooling mom, I love having fun at lunch time with my kids.  It's tons of fun presenting a fun lunch for them!

Some of my favorite tools to present healthy foods to picky eaters:

Let the kids help. Plan a menu each week (or month), and let the kids help plan meals they like. Obviously, letting them decide on chicken nuggets every night isn't realistic, but you can easily incorporate their favorite foods into healthy meals for the entire family. I try to let each of the kids pick a main dish once a week and and a couple side dishes.

Preparing meals as a family is another way to get kids excited about making healthier food choices. Every week my kids each have a night where they are the “kitchen helper” for dinner. I try to plan a meal for those nights where they can help with several steps.  Even toddlers can help out in their own way, just remember to keep them away from the hot stove, of course.  Simple things like rinsing off produce, helping get things out of the fridge, getting out spices (great way to work on early reading skills!), stirring cold items, and measuring ingredients.  As our boys have gotten older, we've introduced new kitchen skills such as cracking eggs, stirring on the stovetop, and knife skills. They enjoy eating something they've helped prepare and rating each other's cooking.

Don't be a short-order cook. Offering a few different veggies is a great way to get kids excited about making healthy food choices.  You have to set some firm rules, however, or you'll become a short order cook that is making everyone something different.  Offering up two vegetables at every meal is acceptable (and might help increase their veggie intake).  Making a different entree for every person is not.

Don't worry about the past. Maybe you did the opposite of all these tips and started with fruit, didn't encourage your toddler to try new foods, and ended up a short-order cook.  It's not too late to fix it!  My sister made a lot of these mistakes with my nephew, to the point he wouldn't eat any fruits or veggies at all!  After working together to come up with a plan and introducing him frequently to new foods over the last year, he is no longer the pickiest eater in the world.  Every time he comes to a family event or has a sleepover, he surprises me (and her) by trying something new and finding new favorite foods. It is possible to correct an aversion to unknown foods and get your child eating a healthy balanced diet, even if they are already school-aged!

Keep trying. Our tastebuds change as we grow. Little kids have more tastebuds than adults do (which is why kids often think something is spicy when adults don't) so something may be overwhelming or bitter to them.  Try the one bite rule.  Everyone at my house (even my nephew) have to take one bite, chew well, and swallow.  My goal isn't to force them to eat all of something and hate it later, but to introduce them to healthy foods that will help nourish their bodies throughout their lives.  Forcing the issue would just cause a negative reaction, but the one bite rule allows them to try every dish.  It's said that it takes anywhere from 10 to 25 times to determine if you truly like something, so make sure you offer each thing at least 10 times before permanently considering it a dislike.

Sometimes, the best way to deal with picky eaters is to understand why they are actually having an issue with the food.  If it is a sensory issue, then there may be other struggles you should address.  If it is just being stubborn, then behavior issues will be part of the routine.  Working with your child to improve their healthy eating habits is part of parenting, and these tips are a great beginning.

More Parenting Tips:

Raising Kids who aren't picky eaters

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